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Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)
- By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
What Is It?
Lupus is thought to develop when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. Immune proteins called autoantibodies attack many different parts of the body causing inflammation and tissue damage. This may include the joints, skin, kidney, nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves), blood, heart, lungs, digestive system and eyes. Autoantibodies also can attach themselves to body chemicals, forming abnormal molecules called immune complexes that trigger additional inflammation and injury when they are deposited in various organs and tissues.
The exact cause of lupus remains a mystery, although scientists are investigating many different possibilities and believe several factors may play a role in the development of the disease. Since 90% of all lupus patients are women, usually of childbearing age, researchers think hormones may be involved. Lupus tends to run in families, so genetic factors may play a role. In the U.S., lupus is more common among African Americans, African Caribbeans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans than Caucasians. Some researchers think lupus may be triggered by a virus or another type of infection in people who are genetically susceptible to the disease.
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